By Thomas G. McGinn, MD, MPH, System Executive Vice President, CommonSpirit Health, Professor of Medicine Baylor College of Medicine and Clinical Professor of Medicine, Creighton University School of Medicine
Recently we hit a milestone no one wanted to reach. More than one million people in the U.S. have died of COVID-19. These are mothers, fathers, grandparents, and friends. More than 200,000 children lost a primary caregiver. These numbers alone are devastating enough, but the ultimate toll is not just from sickness and death, the pandemic has also impacted mental health, connections with friends and family, education, and so much more. These are things that will linger with us for a very long time.
As I reflect on the past two and a half years, I am filled with both sadness and optimism. Sadness because we needlessly lost so many lives. Optimism because we have the tools in place to fight against COVID-19. Over the past two years we have learned so much about the virus, pandemic preparedness, vaccines, treatments, the healthcare system, and humankind. We have seen our healthcare colleagues, faced with tremendous pressure, as pillars of resilience, selflessness and bravery taking on this virus from the frontline. I am incredibly grateful for the entire team across CommonSpirit and for our health care colleagues around the world.
While life may seem more normal than it was in May 2020, the virus is surging again. We need to remain diligent and continue to follow evidence-based guidelines that can help protect against COVID-19. You know them well: wear a mask indoors, stay home if you are sick, and get vaccinated and boosted as soon as you are eligible.
Recently, vaccine booster shots were approved for everyone age five and over. As immunity wanes, everyone who is eligible should receive booster doses to help us continuously fight this virus together. Remember that, according to the CDC, adults 18 and over that are unvaccinated are still five times more likely to be hospitalized and those ages 12 years and older and unvaccinated are 17 times more likely to die compared to their vaccinated counterparts. I cannot say it enough – it is never too late to get vaccinated or boosted, especially as we look ahead to flu season. And another round of free COVID tests are now available. Order yours today, test regularly, and isolate if you test positive.
Even once we ultimately move into the endemic phase, we will still face challenges. We are just beginning to see and understand the detrimental effects of long COVID, which studies are finding impacts 10 percent to as high as 40 percent of people who tested positive for COVID-19, even if their initial infection was mild. Some of the most reported lasting symptoms include fatigue and memory problems. These prolonged conditions will negatively impact people’s lives and continue to strain the healthcare system and those who work in it.
As we reflect on this sobering and grim milestone of one million deaths, we must remember the individuals whose lives were needlessly cut short, and we must honor their legacy by doing our part to protect ourselves and each other from the continued threats of COVID-19.